In 2010, the Interrobang received a letter from Kimberley, a transgender individual reaching out to those in the Fanshawe community who need support and opening the dialogue of what it means to be transgender. Since then, Kimberley has been featured a number of times in the newspaper, writing her own articles and in articles written by newspaper staff, promoting awareness and ensuring transgender students, staff and community members know they are not alone.

Kimberley is a closeted male to female transgender. She has not undergone transition, so to anyone walking by her, she looks like any other man. But she is very much a woman inside, something she realized at three years old. "Not unlike a lot of trans people, I knew very early that things weren't right. A three-year -old has no context of sex and gender, but I definitely knew things didn't fit, didn't work right."

But, as a child in the 1950s, she had to "learn to be male." This meant she did all the "boy" things, "whether I wanted to or not," she said.

Her true feelings stayed buried, eventually boiling over in her late teens when she "hit the wall" — her term for times of massive stress, anxiety and depression — for the first time. That was the first real crisis, but she managed to get through it. "It takes time, but it does eventually wane," she said.

Kimberley said she thought she could "cure" her feelings by taking up a trade to prove how "male" she could be. "I was successful at it. It's not what I wanted, but it's what I did." She met a girl, fell in love and got married. She and her wife had two children, and Kimberley tried to stay "normal," keeping her secret from her family.

The concept of being trans was still suppressed, but it continually raised its head, and there's not much you can do about that, she said. "It's not easy to get through," but she managed it until her late 20s when she hit the wall again. She fought through until about 10 years later when it happened again. "Each time gets worse," she said: the excess hormones plus the guilt, shame and fear make the stress compound with time.

During her third period of hitting the wall, Kimberley's wife figured out that she wasn't quite "normal"; Kimberley's wife assumed she was a cross dresser. Kimberley went along with it; it was the mid '80s, when there was still a lot of prejudice and a serious lack of knowledge about being transgender. "We were lumped into the same basket with the gay population," Kimberley said. "Even today, it's still a battle that's being fought that we have to convince various groups of society that that's not the truth at all — they're totally different realms."

With the emergence of the Internet in the '90s, "a whole new world opened up," said Kimberley. "All of a sudden, people within the trans community began finding one another and, as a result, we found a voice."

But in 2002, Kimberley finally broke. "When I say I broke, I mean I broke. I walked out on a job, a career; I effectively blacklisted myself in doing so." For lack of better terms, she called it a mental breakdown caused by a culmination of debilitating anxiety and depression. There was a suicide attempt, but she had excellent psychiatric help from her family physician, who is a trans advocate. "I was very, very lucky. People who don't have that kind of support fall through the cracks and they become either a statistic or a failure, one way or the other. I consider myself one of the very, very fortunate ones."

She also found support in her online group, connecting with another trans woman, Donna, who had gone through similar experience. Her story paralleled everything Kimberley was hearing from her therapist, and it was Donna who accelerated Kimberley's process of coming out.

The first person she came out to was her wife, about nine years ago. "That did not go well. It was not handled very well," Kimberley remembered. "It's a very difficult thing to do — how do you tell someone that you love that you've been deceiving them and lying to them for 30 years or more?" Her wife has made huge steps in the last year, and though acceptance is unlikely to happen, Kimberley said her life is much easier. There is a large strain on the marriage, but Kimberley and her wife are still together.

The second person she came out to was her daughter, who is probably her "biggest flag-waver," Kimberley said with a proud smile. Though her daughter had to go through a grieving process, she has come to grips with it and continues to be a huge supporter.

Kimberley made it clear that she is not an activist, though she is an advocate "for sure." There are enough people willing to go out there, stamp their feet and get in people's faces, she said, but that's not her style. She works behind the scenes, promoting diversity within various institutions. "I think we get a lot more accomplished that way."

In part, it was these feelings that motivated her to set up the now-defunct Steel Butterflies group here in London along with three friends from another transgender support group: a human rights lawyer, an epidemiology researcher at Western University and an ex-law enforcement officer. "Our focus was not so much to put the issues out in the front, but to work behind the scenes and promote them within the institutions that we have, build bridges with various elements in the community, provide good resources for people within the community," she said. "It all adds up over time."

Her new group, the London Transgender Coffee Social Club, meets on the last Monday of each month at the East Village Coffee House (785 Dundas St.). While they do provide a support system for their members who need it, they're more of a social group than anything else.

Kimberley is also an active member of the Positive Space Ally Training program at Fanshawe. Positive Space is a collective of faculty members and support staff who put on workshops to train members of the campus community to be LGBT allies. "The whole purpose of the group is to try to raise the awareness and provide some cohesion among students and staff and try to find common ground and provide better services for the students," she said. "We're hoping to get this thing flying and raise the awareness and eliminate some of the problems that students have with diversity."

"We can't change people's minds — only they can do that — but we can give them the facts to work with and they can make those choices to accept or reject them."

As part of a "repayment" to Donna for her help, Kimberley started the Transgender London website to pay it forward and help others in the community, and people around the world have accessed the site. In one instance, a woman in the American army was dealing with hitting her own walls. The woman was suicidal, but Kimberley was there to talk to and support her every step of the way. Six months and a lot of letters later (including one to the U.S. Secretary of Defense), "finally, we got her out." Today she is doing extremely well, said Kimberley. "She's one of our many success stories."

Kimberley said she hopes to help others through their own journeys.

"Walking the halls (of Fanshawe), you don't see many people," she said. "But I know they're there, no question. I want to put out a feeler, reach out. Help someone avoid some of the pitfalls I've had to go through for the past 60 years."

One of the main hurdles she hopes she can help with is reaching self-acceptance. "There's no denial, you learn to accept it and live with it," she said. "Part of coming to self-acceptance is you have to get over it. We grew up with shame, fear and guilt."

For those starting on their journey, Kimberley offered some words of wisdom.

First, find some peer counseling — not necessarily someone of the same age but someone who has gone through it and has reached a good place. Also, learn as much as possible about what you're going through, she said.

Find a professional counsellor. In London, there are a number of psychiatrists who deal with transgendered individuals, and you can find them listed on the Transgender London website. If you are in distress, immediately reaching out to someone is paramount.

While finding accessible health care can be difficult, it's still important to never pursue hormonal therapy without it. "Do not seek hormonal therapy over the Internet," said Kimberley. "It could be life-threatening." In addition, she advised to take care of your sexual health.

But overall, reach out to those in the community and outside of it. "If I can't help, I can put them on the right path," said Kimberley.

"You'll lose friends over (this) — that's fine. You'll find new ones. Keep yourself safe and don't take unnecessary risks."

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